Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple says he wasn’t surprised that some people did not like the season 6 cliffhanger in which we did not learn the identity of Negan’s first Alexandria victim, but he was surprised by the intensity of the reaction.

While Gimple acknowledges and respects the various opinions of the fan base, he is also firm in his commitment to the vision of the show. “All of this is on behalf of the audience,” he tells us.

Read on for more as Gimple talks about dealing with fan backlash to the finale as well as his take on the big difference between the Negan cliffhanger and the dumpster one that preceded it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you surprised by the anger that some fans had to the cliffhanger? Did that take you back a little bit?

SCOTT M. GIMPLE: I wasn’t surprised. It’s a very passionate audience and I wasn’t surprised that there was some of that. I guess I was surprised how intense some folks got. But passion is passionate and if they have it for the show, after six years, I guess we’ve just got to take our lumps. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in the story that that cliffhanger is the lynchpin of, and those story aspects that invite an audience to engage with their imagination, and to think about things and discuss things.

The thing that I find so wonderful about mass entertainment is the possibility of strangers being able to talk — to have some common ground and have something that they’re both passionate about, even if they’ve never met each other before. And it’s very gratifying to me to see stories of people thinking and talking and positing and theorizing. I think that aspect of it is wonderful. Of course, we did not seek to make anybody angry. But we are going to stretch and we are going to take risks on behalf of the audience. All of this is on behalf of the audience.

Had the event not existed in the comic, and people didn’t know so much about it and the result of what happened there, do you think there would not have been such an uproar?

Absolutely. It was all about expectations. People were like, “Oh, well, here’s what happens when Negan arrives on the scene. And the expectation was, “Oh, it’ll be this way and that’s the way it should be and that’s the way it is in my head.” And I understand that. But it’s also a question of trying to do things that fulfill the spirit of the story and the spirit of the comic, without it being exactly the comic.

And to tell you the truth, that’s very much something that I do, as somebody who came to The Walking Dead as a comics’ reader, initially. But I feel some of the readers were like, “Oh, this is going to happen, this is exactly what it is.” And we wanted to give them a new experience, and to give them an experience of suspense and fear, because they don’t know what’s going to happen. What’s actually happening on the show to characters, we want them to feel it. We want them to be surprised.

What is more important then: honoring those big moments from the comic faithfully, or providing a new experience for viewers?

As I’ve said a lot of times, it’s a remix. That’s something we proved when I started on the show and [comic creator Robert Kirkman] and I were sitting in the room and I was a writer and producer. I was always wanting to hew as close to the comics as possible, and Robert was wanting to deviate to provide the readers with a new experience. And over the years, I integrated it with my own thinking, as long as we fulfill the spirit of the comic story. We are looking to generate the same emotions and have a very direct interpretation of moments in the book — even if it’s completely different — but still achieving the comic story. That’s what I’ve followed all these years, and at the end of Season 6, it’s very much in line with that.

One of the things I’ve heard from people is that the problem they had with the cliffhanger is that when coupled with the dumpster cliffhanger in the first half of the season, that it was too much in too condensed a time frame. Can you see how that may have been an issue for some?

When we say it’s an issue for some people, we’re only talking about people on the internet, because obviously those are the only ones that we’re aware of, except maybe in our lives. The internet is a very specific demographic. In the end, personally I don’t know. I was talking about how the internet is a certain demographic — a discriminating, smart audience that very deeply analyzes things. I respect that and dig that and if I didn’t write for the show, I’d probably do that myself.

I think in the overarching tapestry of what the show is, these are individual stories that aren’t particularly related. I suppose they do both have to do with loss. But I think it is, in some ways, the opposite. The dumpster story was somebody surviving something. It was about a character getting to live. It was really to put the audience in the place of the people in Alexandria. We didn’t get to know what happened. It looked like he died but it wasn’t unlocked, it wasn’t a certainty. But the thing that allowed him to survive was the thing that made it look like he died, which was Nicholas’ guts. So, hopefully that story was like, “Oh, somebody survived! I went through this horrible thing where, oh my god, this character just died, and they survived.”

This is the opposite. This is a story that promised death and takes them all out and everyone survives. It’s a very different story. If someone is going to die, the other story was that someone would survive. I guess when you have two unbelievably intense incidents that hit the audience hard and did not provide them with the answers immediately, there’s absolutely a parallel there, that’s a big part of the world there. And the proof will be in the pudding, come October.

For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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